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My Story

Everyone has a story to tell. My story is the story of Southern, in pictures.

My line of work is much different from most folks’, routinely begging a slew of questions. Whenever I’m asked how I came to be an art dealer, my wife Jane will preface my response with a prologue of her own: “Oh, I can’t wait to hear this. He tells the story differently every time.” Well, she does have a point, and many of those versions follow here. I know that I judged myself ready to open an official business checking account when, in May of 1972, I first had two hundred dollars in one place at one time. That pad of perforated blanks proclaimed to the world at large that I was indeed a man of commerce: an art dealer.

My business grew from my interest, though, and the interest came early. Frank Fields, a friend to whom you will be introduced towards the close of this book, has an expression which, to me, is so much magic in its meaning—so Southern and so Gullah: “When I was little, when I had sense.” These simple words speak to a profundity that is both truth and moment in the life of any child: that pivotal point when the world’s order and meaning, once only accepted, is now understood. It is the same maturation the apostle Paul wrote of in his first letter to the church in Corinth, the contrast between speaking like a child and later putting childish things aside. We were all “little” once and, for a time, could only react to the influences around us. In time, we became aware and autonomous; we acted and chose. We grew and learned and fashioned ourselves into the adults we would become.

In illustration: I once asked Frank about the history of a certain wide shoulder of the Combahee River in Beaufort County, South Carolina. He told of being born there on Christmas Day in 1936, of being baptized in the creek that flowed into that river, and of making crops and commitments. A lifetime of stories, the continuum from “little” to “sense” rooted in one place. In my case, life led me to Southern art. I saw a beautiful painting and my world changed. It was my understanding of and experiences in the South that allowed that painting to open my eyes. I wasn’t so little, but I saw that painting and I “had sense.”

In the end, my story is nothing but stories—stories of paintings and artists, of past and present, of collectors and scholars, of museums and milestones. It is not the story of big cities, but of well traveled roads to countless small towns. It is more a story of local meat-and-three diners than five-star restaurants. It is a paradoxical and, for me, perfect blend of aesthetic heights and down home. Due to the nature of my work, I could surely fill a book with dropped names and Manhattan cross-streets, with high finance and high times. But those things are not at the heart of the stories I remember best, the ones I want to share. The remembrances that have made my story what it is are the ones that center on the quintessence of the South and on what it means to live out a deeply rooted sense of place and purpose and passion through pictures, accompanied and assisted along the way by like-minded friends.

Tarleton Blackwell (b. 1956)
Hog Series XLIX: Tractor/Maria Teresa (1990)
Graphite Prismacolor Watercolor on paper
32 x 40 inches
Signature Details: Lower Right
Owner: Courtesy of the Artist
1451 River Road · Yemassee, SC 29945 · 843.412.8738
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